Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lost Laughter

by Ong Kar Jin

Inside the dilapidated house, the aroma of incense and ringing of prayers intertwined in the air. A question rang in the still atmosphere. " A diamond necklace?", asked Qalif to the man next to him. The two men rose from their prayers, and one bowed to Lord Ganesha. The candlelight revealed his skin to be as fair as Qalif's. " Yes, a diamond necklace. 24 karat I think.” he muttered through reddish-stained teeth.

"Eh machaan, it's pronounced carat. Anyway ... what you propose to do?". Grinning, Anirudha took the drawing of the necklace and crushed it in his gigantic fist. Slowly, painfully, as if in suspense, he opened his mouth. "We steal."

Sadly, all Qalif could bother about was just how foul Ani's breath was.

20 February 1989, Bukit Tunku.

The midnight sky glimmered with the radiant moonlight, its rays illuminating the bungalow ahead. There was a blue gate with flower motifs all over, and a withered, unkempt garden. The owners, a British couple were away. The two thirty-something sneaked towards the house, creeping like dieting women about to steal food from the forbidden fridge. Qalif was visibly distressed, perhaps still contemplating the consequences of this act. " Qalif! Stop whining or I'll hit you on the head!" Ani, on the other hand, was a block of cold ice: slippery, cool and fast to melt.

The pair worked their way through the useless alarms and fences of the Mat Salleh's house. They had toiled to obtain all the necessary information, concerning everything they could possibly think of. All courtesy of dear Mrs. Cornwell's maid. A quarter of the profit for her cooperation. Soon, they came to the one part they could not deal with: the dog.

Qalif was terrified of dogs. Ani wasn't exactly fond of them either. They were once chased by a mad mutt for half a mile, almost mauled, before help came through. This time, there would be no help. Nervously, Ani took their secret weapon, the bone. He waved it around, making sure the dog saw it, and threw it faraway. The naive canine ran after it. Unhindered, they made through everything else without much effort.

Finally, they made it to the dressing room. Qalif impatiently yanked open the drawer right below the make up accessories, as the maid had said. And for the first time in his life, he felt truly exalted. Their inexperienced eyes feasted on the shining gold chain, moreover, at the humongous sapphire. To them, it looked like heaven trapped in a priceless mirror.

In their triumph, they forgot about their debts, their miseries, their poverty, AND the fact that they were long overdue. To their horror, they heard sirens blaring in the night. The owners must have come back, and their maid had unwittingly chickened out. " Take it and run like a rampaging cow herd!" laughed Ani, attempting to cover his worry in stale jokes. Qalif did not respond. His face was blank, but he forced a wink with his scarred left eye. He was the serious one. It hadn't always been like that.

Qalif returned to reality. The harsh reality that they were no more than petty criminals trying to fill their stomachs. In that reality, his heart was thundering, in the midst of escape. Thump. They were out of the house, into the stolen Proton Saga. Thump. Ani stomped the accelerator, his fake driving license dangling below the rear-view mirror. Thump. The sirens were getting softer, they were outrunning them! Thump. They were on the slip road, in the bumpy hills. At the moment Ani decided to look back, a tree appeared into view. Qalif tried to take over, but it was too late.

BANG! The impact of the crash sent Qalif flying out of the car, and Ani hit his head against the cold metal. Qalif had injured his head and arm, but he miraculously still held on to the necklace. Meanwhile, Ani was still conscious, but he was trapped in the car, and was bleeding profusely. He would need Qalif's help.

A most uncharacteristic, ignoble thought sprang to Qalif's mind. He could take the necklace all for himself. He would take too long a time anyway to help Ani out. " Qalif, I'm stuck. Tambi, give me a hand!" The sirens could be heard in the distance, in a sharp crescendo. Ani was his friend! After all these years, would he forsake his one true friend? It was now or never. Ani saw his hesitation, and understood. He let out everything at the top of his voice, not with anger or a cry, but a laugh. Ani laughed, a cold, sharp laugh and Qalif could only look on, bewildered. Why was he laughing? The sirens could be heard too clearly now. Puzzled and desperate, he made his decision.

He ran. Just seconds after running, he immediately regretted his decision. Too late. Qalif ran, he ran away from all his grief, from his friend, from his jail, from his death, from his life...

22 February 1989, Anirudha's family's home.

" Oh dear Qalif! It is kind of you to visit us. Ani would rest at peace with you here! I told him not to mix with those gangsters! He should have stayed with you, you would have saved him..."

Qalif could only suppress an urge to hang himself. By reflex he changed the subject, and read the newspapers to lighten him up with more political hypocrites.

[ The Star, Sunday, 22 February 1989]


By L. Arathi

BUKIT TUNKU: A 36-year old Indian man's dead body was found in a slip road through the hills yesterday in the early morning. The man has been identified as M. Anirudha, a known triad member.

It is believed that the man was involved in the burglary of The High Commissioner Britian, Mr. Cornwell's bungalow. The purported burglar's last words were apparently spoken to Mr. Cornwell's maid: "Don't tell. Tolonglah." Their maid is now suspected of abetting crime.

Fascinatingly, the only thing stolen was a counterfeit necklace owned by Mrs. Cornwell. The necklace was very similar to the famous original Enchanteur necklace, and the difference cannot be told apart without professional expertise. Preliminary investigations also indicate a second accomplice, believed to be a ...

Qalif stared into the nothingness, and then he let out a laugh. He now knew the meaning of that cold, sharp laugh. Now, he no longer cared for anything. He laughed, mad he was. He laughed as if laughing was all he knew.

(Ong Kar Jin, at 14, was the youngest participant of the Silverfish Writing Programme.)


Avenir said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Well done. An easy read, clear story telling. Hope to read more soon. AM

Rumaizah said...

Very smooth. Good job:)

Avenir said...

Thanks for commenting! I understand that there are gigantic plot holes here and there, so thank you for pointing them out. I still have a loooong way to go. TY.

Kar Jin

thenameless said...

bravo ! a nice twist in the story.

Queen of Swords said...

"dieting women about to steal food from the forbidden fridge" .. interesting and unconventional way of describing thieves about to steal ...